6 Nobodies Who Turned Into Superheroes Without Warning
Experts sometimes fail us. Police officers and firemen can't be everywhere at once. Fortunately, on those rare occasions when qualified individuals can't be found, a random nobody is sometimes waiting in the wings, ready to toe-kick fate in the genitals and save the day.
The Construction Worker Who Dove Under a Subway to Save a Man
Wesley Autrey was a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran living in New York City.
Autrey was waiting on the subway platform with his kids when a man named Cameron Hollopeter (which is the porniest name since Big Dick Gigglefist) fell to the floor and began convulsing. Autrey and two other bystanders went to Hollopeter's aid and brought him back to his feet -- which is exactly what you don't want to do. Sure enough, Hollopeter took a few steps and fell right off the platform and onto the tracks below just as the train started to roll in, setting the scene for a spectacular obituary.
"Cameron Hollopeter: Lived fast, died at about 63 mph."
With no real plan in mind, since the seconds it would take to develop a plan would be just enough time for Hollopeter to be erased by the train, Autrey jumped onto the tracks, not wanting his two daughters to witness the horrific squishing of a human being via train. At first, he tried moving Hollopeter back onto the platform, but the man's convulsing hadn't stopped, making him impossible to lift out of harm's way in time. Luckily, a narrow trench in the center of the rails caught Autrey's eye.
It was little more than a shallow drainage gutter and probably didn't look anywhere close to big enough to shelter a man from a speeding train that was about to come roaring overhead. Autrey, of course, didn't have time to get out his measuring tape, so he just rolled Hollopeter into the trench and lay on top of him to try and keep him from flopping around. There was nothing else for him to do but hope the combined height of his body on top of Hollopeter's would be low enough to miss being fatally shaved off like Italian ice.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet No. 1 on Cracked's list of "Worst Times to Pop a Boner."
The train's operator saw them laying right there between the tracks and hit the brakes, but the subway didn't come to a full stop until two cars had passed over them. To the witnesses on the platform (most notably Autrey's young children), it appeared that the two men locked in a life or death man-hug had most likely been crushed.
But amazingly, they were alive. The train cleared the men by about two inches -- close enough that grease from the underside of the train stained Autrey's hat.
"Would I do it again? No way, I was dumb. That was my favorite hat."
Autrey was honored by every politician in the immediate area and showered with rewards, which included a trip to see Ellen DeGeneres and $10,000 directly from Donald Trump. Through it all, Autrey remained humble, and like Rocky in whatever sequel you're thinking of, he kind of grew disillusioned with the whole hero thing.
"Disillusionment" here bears a striking resemblance to "pimping."
The Chinese Bureaucrat Who Caught a Woman as She Fell from a Window
Guo Zhongfan was a local community officer (the bureaucratic kind, not the police officer kind) and the director at the Xinfa Community Administration Office in China.
A 22-year-old woman, identified only as Miss Li, was rejected by her fiance after a four-year relationship only days before their wedding. Of course, it wasn't just because he didn't love her, but because he had fallen in love with somebody else and decided to marry her instead. More than a little upset, Miss Li put on her wedding dress (because hey, she'd bought it already, so she might as well wear it) and climbed out of a seventh floor window of her apartment building, intent on ending it all.
The tension in this photo is lessened slightly when you realize she'd probably float like Mary Poppins.
She got all the way out and actually let go of the ledge, beginning her deadly free fall, when the strong, rough hands of Zhongfan snatched her out of the air.
And thus, an incredibly dangerous new fetish was born.
Miss Li struggled ironically against the cyborglike grip keeping her alive, but Zhongfan held fast, with a stern look of determination on his face that seemed to say "No way is this shit happening on my watch."
He looks like he beat Death in a staring contest.
With the help of another man on the floor below pushing up on the bride's feet, Zhongfan pulled her back inside to safety. When he was interviewed later, Zhongfan merely said, "I did what anyone would have done." Which seems to suggest that showing up out of nowhere and rescuing people from the crushing weight of mortal despair is business as usual in his province. Actually, now that we mention it ...
The Window Cleaner Who Stops Suicides as a Hobby
Keith Lane is a middle-aged window cleaner and widower in England.
Lane lost his wife when she fell, or more likely jumped, off the East Sussex Cliffs. Beachy Head, as the cliffs are more commonly known, is a depressingly popular spot for people wanting to kill themselves, witnessing an estimated 20 suicides per year.
"Well, I don't really want to kill myself ... but when am I going to be here again?"
Lane's wife, Maggie, had been one of those suicides in 2004. Since he couldn't save her, Lane began patrolling the cliffs daily, looking for other distraught souls at the end of their (proverbial) ropes.
Completely untrained in counseling, Lane has so far managed to prevent 29 people from leaping off the cliff. In his first year of punching suicide in the face, he received a Royal Humane Society Award for tackling a woman about to go over the edge, which sort of explains the "untrained in counseling" bit. More recently, he found another woman clinging to the cliff face about 15 feet down from the edge and actually climbed down to retrieve her, saving her life and earning a shitload of criticism from the local suicide prevention group, the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team (BHCT), because apparently they are unclear on the meaning of the word "prevention."
"Look, grown adults commit to things. You're just a big baby."
The BHCT claim that Lane's rogue suicide prevention efforts endanger the lives of the people trying to kill themselves. Whether he bought that argument or not, Lane has since scaled back his patrols from two to three times daily to once per day, because he didn't "like the confrontations," a phrase which here means "I don't have time for their ridiculous bullshit, I'm trying to save people from jumping off this here cliff."
This man couldn't look more British if he was holding a tea kettle and wearing nothing but a Union Jack.
The Dancer Who Rescued Cruise Ship Passengers (the Hard Way)
James Thomas was a British dancer on the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia.
You know, the boat that pulled half a Poseidon Adventure.
The Costa Concordia ran aground when the captain drove too close to land and hit a reef because he wasn't wearing his glasses and "had difficulty maneuvering large ships," two things we assumed would have been addressed at some point during the interview process.
"I just clicked the 'APPLY TO ALL' button on Monster.com."
After drifting aimlessly for about an hour and then finally running aground, the captain began supervising the evacuation process by getting the hell out of there faster than anybody else, leaving around 4,200 passengers to fend for themselves. A panic quickly ensued.
Passengers scrambled to find an escape route from the overturned ship, some simply leaping into the water to try to swim to land. A group of several others quickly became lost inside the ship, turning up one level above the life rafts that would take them to safety. The gap was too far down for any of them to reach without injury, so the passengers waited and hoped for somebody big or some kind of ropey ladder to get them to the bottom. Little did they know, they were about to get both -- James Thomas stepped onto the deck, all 6-feet-3-inches of his lanky British frame striding through them like Daniel Stern through a sea of Joe Pescis.
If you look closely, you can see that the photo of him is holding the photo of him holding the photo.
He'd only been performing as a dancer on the Costa Concordia for six months, which effectively made him more qualified than anyone else on board to lead the evacuation. Seeing the predicament the other passengers were facing, Thomas stretched one arm down to the life rafts while holding onto the rail of the deck above, allowing dozens of people to climb onto his shoulders and then down his body to the rafts.
That's right -- he turned himself into a human ladder, something that we're assuming isn't taught in any of the safety pamphlets they hand out when you get on the boat. And the next time you consider picking a fight with a dancer, keep this in mind: Thomas supported all of the weight of the climbing passengers with one freaking hand.
His strong, manly hand.
The Economist Who Came Up With a Cure for a Disease That Baffled Scientists
Augusto Odone was an economist working for the World Bank with little to no medical training. His heroics would result in having a movie made about him and his family containing large doses of Nick Nolte.
At least his crazy genes are slightly offset by Susan Sarandon.
In 1984, Augusto and Michaela Odone's 6-year-old son, Lorenzo, tested positive for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a genetic disorder that attacks the brain. It strips vision, hearing, motor function and the ability to breathe or think. At the time of Lorenzo's diagnosis, there was nothing approaching a cure or even any type of available treatment. Augusto and his wife were essentially told that their son was going to die in less than two years and there was simply nothing to be done about it.
This is one of those rare situations where the real people were much more photogenic than their movie counterparts.
Augusto, with no background in the subject, read up on everything about ALD, spending entire nights in libraries, hoping to find something that the professionals devoted to researching the disease had somehow missed. All the while, his son continued to deteriorate.
But impossibly, Augusto made a discovery: The damage ALD caused in his son came from a buildup of long chain fatty acids in the blood. Years of no medical experience whatsoever told him that if he could somehow stop this from happening, it might help Lorenzo. He swiftly organized a medical conference (with doctors this time) to discuss his research, and came away with the exact thing he'd been looking for: an oil capable of destroying long chain fatty acids.
It had to be an oil, because Lorenzo's Suppository would've sold the wrong kind of tickets.
The treatment, a combination of rapeseed and olive oils, was given to Lorenzo, and remarkably, the heinous progress of the disease seemed to stop. It wasn't a cure, and it didn't repair the extensive damage already done to Lorenzo, but he was alive, and the disease spread no further.
But while there was nothing to be done about the damage little Lorenzo had already sustained, that wasn't true for future victims of the disease; studies indicate that it works to prevent the onset of ALD once it's been diagnosed but before symptoms have developed. A study completed in 2005 showed that the oil was successful in preventing the development of ALD in 83 out of 120 trial cases where it was diagnosed, which is a hell of a thing for some oil made by a desperate father with absolutely no medical background.
As for Lorenzo himself, he lived 20 years beyond doctors' expectations, finally succumbing to pneumonia, proving once again that doctors probably don't know anything. To lessen their shame, an honorary doctorate was given to Augusto so that the medical community could credit any other discoveries he made to a real doctor and not some random dude.
The Airline Passenger Who Made Sure Everyone But Him Got Rescued
Arland D. Williams was a 46-year-old federal bank examiner with a lifelong fear of water.
Air Florida Flight 90, which we've written about before, crashed into the Potomac River after colliding with the 14th Street Bridge in the middle of a snowstorm on January 13, 1982.
Six people, all with fractures to their limbs, managed to swim out of the sinking plane and gather by the tail, where they were pretty much stuck. Heavy ice, which prevented rescue boats from getting involved, was keeping them pinned to the plane, and they were quickly growing too weak to continue holding on to it. A bystander even tried to jump in and swim the 40 or so yards to the survivors, but he wound up passing out like a jackass and having to be rescued himself.
"Leave heroism to the untrained amateurs, you untrained amateur!"
Time was just about up when a rescue helicopter, piloted in near zero visibility, turned up to drop rescue lines down. They pulled out one man and dropped the line to the next, a balding, ordinary guy with "an extravagant mustache," who decided to put the rescue ring into another survivor's hands rather than take it himself, harnessing what is commonly referred to as "mustache power."
Mustache power beats plane pretzel nine times out of 10.
The helicopter plucked out this second person and dropped the line back down to the mustachioed man. Amazingly, he passed it along again, and then again after that, handing it to the last survivor he could reach (the fifth survivor was saved by Lenny Skutnik, as mentioned in our previous article). When the helicopter returned for a last run, the man was gone -- the plane's tail had shifted and sank, dragging him down with it.
It was only in the aftermath that authorities retrieved his body from the river and identified him as Arland D. Williams Jr. So here's to you, buddy. The rest of us can only hope that in that situation, we'd do the same. And then we can pray that we never have the chance to find out we're wrong.
Contact Paul K. Pickett by email.
For other noteworthy acts of badassery, check out 6 WWI Fighter Pilots Whose Balls Deserve Their Own Monument and The 11 Most Badass Last Words Ever Uttered.